General Kinematics

Waupaca CEO Gigante Retiring, to be Replaced by Nikolai

April 27, 2016

Waupaca Foundry values its culture. It likes knowing that its employees, everybody from the top to the bottom, appreciate what Waupaca values and is trying to accomplish.

The same goes for parent company Hitachi Metals, which sees the importance of promotions to keep continuity and local management.

So it’s no surprise that the Waupaca, Wisconsin facility is replacing its retiring CEO with somebody who rose through the ranks of the firm.

Gary Gigante is retiring effective June 30 and will be replaced by current COO and president Mike Nikolai, who will effectively take over as CEO on July 1. Gigante has served as CEO since 2007 and began at the company as a metallurgist in 1981.

“It’s all about the culture. It’s very unique,” Gigante said. “You’re always afraid that if you go to the outside you could perhaps change it. Not that change is bad, but the culture is very unique. It’s like a family.”

Nikolai is familiar with that culture.

Nikolai joined Waupaca in 1993 as a metallurgist and has gained more responsibility with each new position. He’s been a production manager, assistant plant manager, and vice president of operations before being named president and COO on April 1, 2015.

The ascension of Nikolai is the culmination of a five-year succession process, and now he steps into the top of a company at a pivotal time in its history. Not only is Gigante retiring, but also announcing his retirement is executive vice president of sales and marketing Kris Pfaehler, who will be succeeded by executive vice president John Wiesbrock.

Waupaca’s merger with Hitachi Metals Automotive Components USA LLC has been finalized, and the iron casting giant is beginning a transformative three-year business plan. As detailed in the April issue of Modern Casting, the firm is aiming to convert Waupaca Foundry Etowah (Tennessee) to produce 100% ductile iron, provide a machining solution and other value added services for strategic products, install a horizontal molding line in North America, and locate a facility in Mexico.

There’s also something else that Nikolai is aiming to do.

“It’s important to maintain the culture because I got mentored by Gary Thoe and then Gary Gigante, so I’ve got pretty big shoes to fill. They are two pillars of the industry,” Nikolai said. “That’s the biggest thing. We have to maintain the culture at Waupaca because we’ve got a good thing going.”

That will continue with Hitachi Metals, which will help Waupaca in its efforts to reach out beyond North America.

“That’s why we have a strong partner with Hitachi Metals,” Nikolai said.

Pfaehler joined Waupaca Foundry in 2007 after holding executive sales and business development positions in the automotive industry. Wiesbrock joined Waupaca in 2002 and has held positions in sales, operations, and supply chain management.  

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